As an athlete growing up in Edina, Jenny Potter wanted to be an Olympian. She embarked on that goal by giving swimming a try.
“I realized I hated it and wasn’t going to go to the Olympics in swimming,’’ she said.
Instead, the former Jenny Schmidgall traded the pool for a frozen form of water, starting a hockey career that on Monday night resulted in her being named one of four inductees into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
“Luckily, hockey ended up being the right path,’’ said Potter, who joins Boston College coach Jerry York, former North Dakota and Nebraska Omaha coach Dean Blais and former Wisconsin standout player and current Badgers coach Tony Granato in the hall’s Class of 2020.
The pinnacle of Potter’s hockey career came early, when as a 19-year-old in 1998 she helped the United States win the gold medal in the inaugural women’s hockey tournament in the Olympics. Turns out, that was part of her life’s plan.
“When I found out women’s hockey was going to make its debut in 1998, I think I was about 14, and I said, ‘I want to be on that team,’ ’’ Potter said. “I spent night and day playing hockey, going to open hockey. I rink-ratted with a lot of great hockey players. I was fortunate enough to make that first cut and make that Olympic team. And not only that, coming home with a gold medal – the first-ever gold medal in women’s hockey. That was the most memorable experience in my life.’’
She had several others after that, too. She spent one season with the Gophers, amassing 71 points in 32 games before transferring to Minnesota Duluth. As a Bulldog, she led the nation in scoring with 93 points as a sophomore in 1999-2000, then helping UMD win an NCAA championship in 2003.
That 2003 title, which the Bulldogs won 4-3 in double overtime over Harvard in Duluth, stands out in Potter’s mind. “It was one of the best hockey games, to this day, that was played,’’ she said. “… It really put women’s hockey on the map at Minnesota Duluth as well as across the country.’’
Potter helps run the Northeast Wisconsin Junior Gamblers program with her husband, former Gophers player Rob Potter, and former Wisconsin standout Brian Rafalski. She works with players from age 6 to high school level and enjoys creating opportunities for girls to play the sport she loves.
An episode at the newly opened Kohl Center in Madison, Wis., in the late 1990s showed her pioneering spirit.
Wisconsin’s men’s team was finishing a practice at the arena but wouldn’t leave the ice to allow Potter and her teammates to begin their practice. “I was a little late getting on the ice, and there were a lot of our players on the ice in the neutral zone,’’ Potter said. “ I thought, ‘Great, we’re going to practice with the boys’ team. That’s awesome.’ ’’
While her teammates mingled in the neutral zone, Potter skated into the Badgers men’s zone and had players trying to strip her of the puck.
“I thought they were just playing around. I just went down and scored a top-shelf goal,’’ she said. “Everyone was cheering, and the guys just left the ice. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ I guess the guys wouldn’t leave the ice and wouldn’t give anyone pucks. I guess I made their goalie look silly.’’
Little did they know, they had seen a hall-of-famer in action.